Council OKs Farm Aid, New Laconia State School Closing; No McLaughlin Pardon Hearing

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Paula Tracy photo

Gov. Chris Sununu is pictured at the Governor and Executive Council meeting Wednesday shaking hands with Hooksett school children.


CONCORD – About $8 million in crop relief was approved Wednesday for New Hampshire farmers who suffered more than $15 million in damage from two extreme weather events – freezing and flooding – in 2023.

Farmers can start getting money as early as March 1 in time for the growing season with the hope that it will cover about 30 percent of their losses.

The Governor and Executive Council also committed to some more of the roughly $36 million left in the American Rescue Plan Act federal funds for one-time projects with a deadline to use the money or return it to Washington now looming before the end of the year.

The council also rejected a request for a pardon for the former Hampton Police officer who killed his neighbor in 1988.

It also heard that March 13 is the new closing date for the former Laconia State School sale for $21.5 million. And Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, who is running as a Democrat for Governor, asked for assurances that National Guard troops who will head to the southern border in April are not expected to uphold enforcement which may not be legal.

Gov. Chris Sununu received approval for more than $850,000 to be spent to send troops there to support the efforts to shore up the border, arguing it is in the state’s interest to do so because of illegal importation of drugs there. It was approved by the Republican-controlled legislative Fiscal Committee last Friday.

Also, Executive Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, continued to press for a resolution to issues with the state’s insurance company that handles drug coverage for retired state employees and received assurances that there will be repercussions for Anthem and its subsidiaries.


Seventy fruit growers surveyed by UNH Cooperative Extension estimated over $10 million in losses in 2023 with severe freezing and another $3 million was estimated in losses for crops due to flooding and intense rain. Forage crop producers also collected over $2 million in damages in 2023, according to Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper.

Councilors Stevens and Warmington thanked Jasper for creating the program which is expected to go live on March 1.

Jasper said the department has been working with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service on the federal application and has a meeting coming up with the state Agricultural Advisory Committee for their input.

The program is for those who can show a 30 percent or more crop loss for one or more of the events and they need to be able to show at least gross receipts in 2022 of $30,000.

The plan, Jasper said, is to open the program in March with awards of 50 percent of what they are eligible to be paid immediately, to allow them to buy seeds and supplies for this spring.

“We don’t really know what the total requests are going to be,” Jasper said. 

He said the plan is also to close the program May 15 and at that point make awards with what is left.


Without debate, the council unanimously rejected a request for a pardon hearing for former Hampton Police Officer Robert Allen McLaughlin, Sr., 83, incarcerated for almost 35 years and now at a prison in Lake City, Florida who said he killed his neighbor, Robert Cushing, Sr., 63, in Hampton as he answered his door on June 1, 1988.

The victim was the father of the late former state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.

McLaughlin was employed at the time by the Hampton Police Department for 18 years from 1970 to 1988 and went on serving the department for several months before being arrested.

He is serving a life sentence without parole for first-degree murder/conspiracy, from Rockingham County Superior Court.

He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was convicted April 9, 1990.

McLaughlin is not eligible for an annulment of the conviction and his only recourse to get out of his prison cell is for a pardon from the governor and Executive Council.

McLaughlin’s former wife, now Susan Cook, is also serving life in prison in connection with the murder. She drove the getaway car and was convicted of accessory to murder, conspiracy to murder, and witness tampering. Cook has also tried unsuccessfully in the past to get a pardon hearing before the council claiming she was terrorized by her then-husband at the time.

Robert McLaughlin noted his advanced age made him unlikely to reoffend and noted costs to taxpayers for his incarceration. He is divorced but has three children and said he would like to spend what time he has left with family.

The request was not supported by the Department of Justice.

“This feeling of horror and betrayal was shared by the entire community of Hampton, as well as the law enforcement community across the state – that a person who took the oath to faithfully execute the laws of the state of New Hampshire could purposely betray that oath by committing the most permanent and heinous of crimes, and then go on pretending to be a ‘servant’ and protector of the community,” wrote Bethany Durand, assistant attorney general.


After approving a Purchase and Sales Agreement in December, 2022 for the 220-acre former Laconia State School Property, the council was told there is a plan to close on the $21.5 million deal on March 13 in Manchester.

Some have been skeptical that the deal would actually lead to a transfer of the property to Legacy at Laconia, a major residential and commercial development led by Robynne Alexander.

Charlie Arlinghaus, commissioner for the Department of Administrative Services, said the plan is to have all parties sign at a lawyer’s office in Manchester in the afternoon of March 13 and said the person who has worked hardest over the past 10 years to see that day is Republican Executive Councilor Joe Kenney of Wakefield.

Kenney said he has been working behind the scenes with the city and the developer and that much of the groundwork to allow for such a “complicated” transaction was done by former commissioner George Bald and a study commission that envisioned a “mini Pease Development Authority.”

On behalf of Legacy, Scott Tranchemontagne said in an email: “We are very much looking forward to closing. The Legacy at Laconia is one of the largest mixed-use projects in New Hampshire, proposing more than 12-hundred new homes to help address the New Hampshire’s housing crisis, including 320 workforce apartments.  Along with a barrier-free hotel and conference center, nearly 200 senior living units, exciting new retail and restaurants and a great deal of space for community events, the Legacy at Laconia will transform this blighted property into a major residential, tourist and economic hub for all of the lakes region.”

The Senate last week approved $3 million of the proceeds to go to Laconia for infrastructure upgrades necessary to make the ambitious project a reality, but it still needs to be approved by the House and the governor.


The council approved the finances to appoint Jace Wirth as mountain manager at Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch with a base salary of $99,500 replacing John DeVivo.

Wirth has worked in the mountain resort industry for 13 years.

Wirth is from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and was a racer and son of a ski area professional.

In 2015 he became directly involved in ski area management and is currently based in Granby, Colorado. 

He is expected to begin in mid-March.

Executive Councilor David Wheeler, a Milford Republican, who was critical of the department for allowing its predecessor to drive a state vehicle for personal use, was assured there is no plan in Wirth’s contract to allow personal use of a state vehicle.

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